Now three seasons deep into the new era of Survivor, the fast-paced, all-or-nothing version of the game continues to be a breath of fresh air for the franchise. And if Wednesday night’s episode of Survivor 43 showed us anything, it’s that we are in for a season just as excellent as the last two.
After an admittedly poor performance from Nneka, as well as a misstep at the puzzle of this week’s Immunity Challenge, the Vesi tribe earned themselves a date with Jeff at Tribal Council, which was bound to be a nail-biter; Dwight lost his vote in last week’s season premiere, while Cody faced similar troubles after finding Vesi’s Beware Advantage.
The vote was presented as going one of two ways: Justine be eliminated by the trio of Nneka, Cody, and Jesse, or a tie be forced between Nneka and Justine due to Dwight and potentially Cody not having a vote. The trio were successfully able to get Cody’s vote restored by the ridiculously funny Beware Advantage task, which simply involved a bedazzled hat. In the end, Justine became the second eliminated contestant of the season, seemingly solidifying the trio as a strong force moving forward in the game.
Pop Crave caught up with Justine about her gameplan coming into the season, the conversation leading up to that make-or-break tribal council, and more. Keep reading for the full exit interview!
Coming into the game so fresh off of Seasons 41 and 42, what was your approach going into this new, faster-paced version of the game? Do you think you played any differently than you would on a 39-day season?
Yeah, I think that there are so many different strategies that you can have going into a game of Survivor. There’s no one Silver Bullet strategy that will make someone a winner of Survivor. It depends on the tribe dynamics, the cast, how they see you, and how your strategy works with them. There are a million things I would have done differently. Something that Jeff told us before we started filming was, “The biggest piece of advice that I can give you is play like it’s your second time playing, not like it’s your first.” None of us really knew what he meant by that because you’re like, “How are we supposed to play like it’s our second time? We’ve never played before!” But now I completely understand, because if I’m ever given the chance to play Survivor again, there are a ton of things I would have done differently. One of them is to listen to your gut. Don’t trust people that your gut is telling you not to trust. That’s a big thing for me now.
In last week’s episode, we saw a funny scene where Dwight asked the tribe if anyone used a machete before – and no one has! You did manage to start the tribe’s first fire, though. How did you prepare for the survival aspect of the game before arriving in Fiji?
I was actually practicing! I got a flint on Amazon, and so I was practicing making fire with flint in my sink – in my apartment with paper towels – which is a lot easier than how it is out there! But yeah, I wanted to be able to make fire, and I did that. I was proud of that. I also was just working out more than I typically do. I’m a very petite person, so being able to bulk up is not really in the cards for me. I think a lot of people bulk up or get their body used to surviving off 500 calories a day. I just chose to gain as much muscle as I could. You do all this prep, and then once you go out there, it all goes out the door [laughs]! All of it.
Almost immediately into the season, we saw Cody let some of your tribemates know to watch out for you working in sales. Was that something you considered lying about, and why did you ultimately decide to be truthful about your profession?
I didn’t really give much thought to it. Honestly, I don’t think anyone in the past on Survivor has gotten crucified for being in sales. If I were placed on any other tribe where there wasn’t another salesperson, my fate probably would have been different. There wouldn’t be sales-on-sales violence because there weren’t any other salespeople on the other tribes. I didn’t really think much of it. It’s interesting how again, it depends on the cast and the tribe dynamics. In the past, Tori [Meehan] lied about being a therapist, but on my season, Elie didn’t lie about being a psychologist and being a therapist. That hasn’t seemingly put a target on her back, so it varies with every tribe and every season. It’s just unfortunate that I was on a tribe with another salesperson, and they decided to target me for that.
From the start, we saw the girls on Baka and Coco agree to have each other’s backs (and we saw where that led with Morriah). You and Noelle were obviously close, but was there ever any consideration of you two pulling in Nneka to avoid the guys possibly forming something?
We never really talked about that for a couple reasons. I think that I could sense immediately that I was a target for Nneka and Cody. I should have neutralized them. I should have made more of an effort with them, but for me, that kind of made me crawl even further into my Noelle and Dwight hole. I’ve known in the past that all-women alliances haven’t been super successful, so it wasn’t really in the cards for me.
Speaking of that, you’re obviously closest to Dwight out of all the guys on Vesi. How did that relationship form, and how tight would you say your allegiance was to him?
Dwight was just someone that right off the bat, I think Noelle and I clicked with. He’s kind of a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, Survivor superfan college kid. It was really endearing. He was the type of person where you just want the best for Dwight. We immediately were like, “Okay, we really like this kid. He seems pretty harmless. He seems trustworthy.” We hit it off pretty early – me, Noelle, and Dwight – and that’s something that you don’t really see in the edit. They definitely showed Dwight as being more of in “no man’s land,” in the middle with Jesse, but at this point, even in last night’s episode, Dwight was completely in our circle of trust.
In last night’s episode, Jesse said he didn’t necessarily jive with you well on Vesi. Outside of gameplay, did you feel that you got along with him well? Did you sense those feelings from him at all?
I didn’t! It stung a little bit to hear him say that, because out there, Jesse is such an endearing person. He has an incredible backstory, and you just have an appreciation for someone like Jesse out there. He’s also kind of introverted, and I’m more extroverted and talkative, obviously [laughs]! Meeting Jesse out there, I found him really endearing. I was like, “I want to trust this guy, but I do notice him going back and forth. I don’t know if I can fully trust him.” He definitely wasn’t on the bottom of my list in my tribe of people that I jived with, so it stung a little bit to hear that.
We saw the segment of Cody trying to gather everybody’s beads to ensure that he could vote at Tribal Council. Since the Beware Advantage has forced players to do odd things like this in the past two seasons, was there any suspicion among you, Noelle, and Dwight behind him doing this?
There was absolutely zero suspicion, because as you can see from your couch, Cody is just such a character. He is exactly how he is in person. How he’s being portrayed on TV, that is Cody. Cody is Cody, and so we didn’t think anything of it for Cody to be like, “I want to weave a hat for myself and then bedazzle it!” We didn’t even think twice about it, but if that were anyone else… like, if that were Jesse, we’d be like, “That seems a little off! My spidey senses are tingling!” But yeah, we had no idea.
Going off of that, what was the idol hunting situation like on Vesi?
Idol hunting is a lot harder in real life than they make it look like on TV. Noelle and I went out searching a lot. I even went out searching with Dwight a couple times, and I even went out searching with Jesse. It’s honestly like finding a needle in a haystack in that forest. There’s so much debris, leaves, and dead coconuts. All of this shit is everywhere. You’re just like, “How does anyone find anything in here?” That’s why you hear me say, “Oh, this tree looks very suspicious!” You typically see that people will find idols in places where they’re like, “Okay, why is that palm strategically placed over this tree? There’s gotta be something off about that,” but I swear I walked by that tree that Cody found it in multiple times. I never saw anything, so I’m kicking myself.
You ended up voting Cody, which I can assume why, but some fans are still a bit confused about it… Can you talk a little about that vote and how you decided on it leading up to tribal council?
A lot of what you don’t see in the edit is how me, Noelle, Dwight, and Jesse had a plan – or so we thought. We trusted Jesse so much that he was going to be voting with us. We thought Nneka knew she was on the bottom, and if she knows that she’s on the bottom, she’s obviously going to play her shot in the dark. That’s how trusting we were that Jesse was with us, and you don’t see that on-screen. In the case that Nneka knows she’s on the bottom, plays her shot in the dark and is successful, we wanted to cast a vote on Cody so that we would have to revote and only be able to vote for Justine or Cody. It would be a 3-1 vote on Cody, and he would go home.
Jesse clearly felt a certain way after you voiced some doubt in him voting out Nneka. You also told him that you have a good acting face, which he later used against you. Do you have any regrets about playing such a forthcoming game with the people you trusted?
It’s eye-opening being on Survivor and just knowing the context of these conversations, and then seeing it play out on TV and having things get taken out of context in the edit. That conversation where I’m talking about having a straight face and a good poker face when I lie with Jesse, that was taken out of a conversation where Jesse was coming to me and strategizing. He was saying, “Okay, Cody and Nneka are confused why you feel so comfortable. You’re not coming off as paranoid, so what should I go back to them with?” We were having a full-on conversation of what he should tell Cody and Nneka. I thought Jesse was on my side at this point. I fully trusted him. Of course, I’ll say, “Yeah, I’ll go have a conversation with Nneka. I have a good straight face and can just lie.” I just fully trusted him. I thought I fully trusted Jesse at this point. Obviously, they decided to only take out that part of the edit. I came off as, like, “Oh, Justine’s an oversharer! Justine, stop talking!” Okay, well, you guys also don’t see that Jesse was strategizing with me. The other situation where I am talking to Dwight and Jesse, clearly there’s something in the back of my mind where I’m like, “Don’t trust Jesse! Don’t trust Jesse!” I should have kept that to myself and not vocalized that, but to be fair, I think you can tell Jesse was already going to vote for me at that point. He was already with Nneka and Cody, and we didn’t know that. I can’t kick myself with the coulda-woulda-shouldas about that, because he would have voted me anyway.
Final question! Do you think you had any potential of staying had you not rocked the boat and threw Nneka’s name out?
I mean, you can even see that from day one there was a target on my back because I’m in sales. Who knows if that’s the actual reason. I choose to think that maybe he was just threatened by me because I was a strong woman out there. I think that they tried more with Noelle. She was probably more vulnerable with them. Obviously, she lost her leg when she was 19. That gave them more things to talk about with her, whereas I don’t think they felt they could really connect with me. I wasn’t as vulnerable, maybe, so I think that I wasn’t able to make as strong of connections because of that.
New episodes of Survivor air Wednesday nights at 8/7c on CBS.